Dropbox – Must have Mac App

Dropbox Logo

Dropbox is the magic sauce that can synchronise your files between your Macs, iOS Devices, Windows Machines and other smartphones. It also allows you to ;

  • Share files and folders with other users
  • Backup your documents
  • Get back to an earlier version of your file
  • Gives web access to your files when you are away from your Mac or PC
  • Provides a robust syncing solution to 3rd Party applications as well.

In short Dropbox is pretty much an essential Mac App, especially if you have an iOS device.

I have been using Dropbox for the last 3 years, and it helped me solve a problem that I had. My job required me to travel, so I needed my files with me on my Macbook Pro. However I also wanted to be able to get to my files on my Windows Desktop. Normally the files were kept on the office server, so that they were automatically backed up. I would have to copy the ones that I wanted onto my MacBook Pro when I was going out of the office. I would need to remember to copy the files back to the server when I returned. To cut a long story short, it was a right pain.


Dropbox Sync

The solution to my problem was Dropbox. When it is installed on your Mac or PC it creates a Dropbox Folder and anything that you put in that folder is then first synced to the Dropbox ‘cloud’ servers.  The files are then pushed out to any other device that you have Dropbox installed on and linked to your account.

To create an account the sign-up process is very easy, and for storage of up to 2GB the account is free. 2GB is more that enough for most people if you are just storing office documents. If you need more, then you will need to subscribe to one of their subscription plans. I am still using the free account. To sign up go to www.dropbox.com and click the log in button and choose create an account.  Just fill in your name, email and enter the password that you want.

Dropbox signup

You will get an email from Dropbox welcoming you to the service and you can either click a link in the email to download the Dropbox client, or download it direct from the website home page.  Run the installer and enter your email address (user name) and password and you are ready to go. The installer will ask you were you want to have your Dropbox folder and by default it will put it in your Home Folder.

Then repeat the process of installing the client on any other Macs or PC’s you have.

When the installation process is complete the application will install a Dropbox icon on your menu bar, as well as a shortcut to the Dropbox folder in the OS X Finder.

Dropbox Menu Icon

The Dropbox icon on the menu bar allows quick access to the Dropbox folder. In addition it gives you a shortcut to the Dropbox Website allowing you access to other features such as sharing and versions explained below. The drop down menu also gives you a quick snapshot of how much space you have used in your account and how much you have available.

There is a Dropbox App in the iOS App store for iOS devices, and there are also clients available for other smartphones such as the Android and BlackBerry platforms. The iPhone and iPad Dropbox Apps are essential if you have one of these devices. They keep an index of all your files in your Dropbox folder and allow you to mark it as a favourite to keep it downloaded to your iOS device, so you have access to it even if you don’t have an active internet connection. Dropbox will allow you to easily email files from your iOS device. In addition files in Dropbox can also be opened in supported Apps on the iOS device. For example PDF files can be opened in iBooks.

Your files on the Dropbox server are encrypted, all data transmissions are done over a SSL-encrypted channel. Other Dropbox users can’t see your private files in Dropbox unless you deliberately invite them or you put them in your Public folder.

The great beauty about Dropbox is the speed that it will sync your files. Dropbox transfers just the part of the file that changes, thus saving both bandwidth usage and time.

Web Access

Dropbox Web Service

If you are away from your computer and iOS devices (iPhone/iPad) you can still access all of your Dropbox files by logging onto the Dropbox Web Service with your user name and password.


Dropbox is a great service to share files with friends, family and co-workers. You can designate any Folder in your Dropbox Storage area as a shared folder. However to do this you need to use the Dropbox Web Service.

Dropbox  Sharing Folders

To share a folder, click the share a folder button. Dropbox will ask you if you want to create a new folder or share an existing folder. Dropbox will then ask you who you want to share the folder with, and any message that you also want to send to that individual.

Dropbox Share email

Dropbox will then send an email to the recipient with a link to the shared folder. Note that everyone in the shared group has administration access to the shared folder and so can copy, modify and delete the files.

As well as sharing folders, which is great for collaboration projects, Dropbox also allows users to send a link to a file in the public folder. This is useful for large files such as video or audio files that are too large to email. Files in your Public folder are public and can be viewed or downloaded by anyone who uses the link. If at any point you want to stop sharing a file, all you need to do is move it out of your public folder and it will no longer be shared. This Article explains how to create links to files and move them to the public folder.

Backup and Versions

By using Dropbox you are effectively backing up all the files in your Dropbox folder to the Dropbox servers.  If anything happens to the locally stored originals, such as hard drive failure, you still have the files that are accessible via a web page on the Dropbox servers (or any other device that your Dropbox folder is synced to) .

Another advantage of Dropbox is file versioning. The Dropbox server keeps versions of your files for 30 days (or for an unlimited period if you subscribe to one of the paid accounts). These versions are similar to the new versions system in OS X Lion 10.7, except without the fancy time machine like interface.

Dropbox file options

To see the previous versions you will need to use the Dropbox web Service, in the file list click the blue triangle to the side of the file that you want to access a previous version and then select Previous versions.

Dropbox Revisions

Select the version that you want to restore and click the Restore button. Dropbox will then restore this version.

3rd Party Application Support

Finally Dropbox is used by a large number of 3rd Party Application developers to provide sync support to Apps like TextExpander and 1Password to share libraries and data between Mac’s and PC’s as well as iOS devices. This makes using these applications on multiple devices much easier to use.




  1. ouija board  February 4, 2012

    I’m just saying… It’d be cool if you could share a VP document over dropbox and have multiple folks edit it at the same time.

    • craner  February 4, 2012

      Unfortunately Dropbox is just a syncing tool, and not meant to be a collaborative tool. In other words dropbox will not let more than one person edit the same file at the same time. It does give you a warning if you try to open a file that someone else has open.

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